Eighteen months ago, everything changed for Alpine skier Corinne Suter. Two surprise medals at the 2019 World Championships allowed her to exhale and send her anxiety packing, which left her free to fulfil a talent that had long been bubbling under the surface.
Switzerland’s Corrine Suter seems wonderfully at ease. A state of mind that may be unsurprising for the women’s downhill and super-G overall World Cup champion, but this is an athlete who had to grow up with the burden of being Alpine skiing’s “next big thing” in a country where the sport is worshipped.
It took Suter, double junior world champion in 2014, some time to transfer her obvious skills into the hard currency of results at senior level. But downhill silver ahead of her childhood idol Lindsey Vonn at the International Ski Federation (FIS) 2019 World Championships in Åre, Sweden, finally did the trick.
“This is the reason why skiing is more fun for me now,” laughed Suter, who also grabbed bronze in the super-G in Åre.
“It’s funny; I don’t feel different, because I knew I could ski that fast before I won the medals, but for sure it took a lot of pressure off me because, with this success, I trust more in myself.”
For an athlete who flies down mountains at more than 120km per hour, mental equilibrium is clearly key. For years it was a struggle for Suter, but now her mind is clear and the skis have responded.
“I don’t think so much now,” she revealed. “For example, when I am at [an] inspection I just go to the run and then I go [through the run] three, four times in my head. I remember the run and then I go to the start. Years ago it was more; I didn’t know if I could do it. Now, I stand at the start and I know I [will] do my best.
“Also, it’s important in the finish area; even if the time is not good I know I did my best, and this is what I can [do]. This is the best feeling for me because years ago I was in the finish area and I was [always] like, ‘No, this is not what I can do’.”
The results have flowed. In January this year, the now 26-year-old claimed her first World Cup downhill title in Altenmarkt, Austria. This was on the back of two podium places in the opening downhill and super-G races of the season, held in Lake Louise, Canada.
And that was just the start. Four weeks after breaking her downhill duck, Suter grabbed her first super-G World Cup gold and, by the time racing came to an early end due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she had been confirmed as the first female Swiss skier in 31 years to win two of the FIS’ fabled crystal globes in a single season. She was also the first Swiss woman to claim an overall downhill World Cup title in 29 years.
Such results prompted compatriot and PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games combined champion Michelle Gisin to tell reporters in Altenmarkt that she was “in awe” of Suter.
“I didn’t know this,” Suter laughed. “I like her a lot; I like all my team-mates. It’s important when we train together that we have some fun [away from] the slope, not always [skiing]. I can laugh a lot with Michelle at dinner or after the race; it’s always funny with her.”
The Swiss women’s Alpine skiing squad is clearly a good place to be. At PyeongChang 2018, the team claimed a gold – for Gisin in the combined – a silver for Wendy Holdener in the slalom, and a bronze (Holdener in the combined), plus gold in the inaugural mixed gender team event, to underline this fact.
The success has given Suter “more power”, something she felt she needed after enduring a tough time in PyeongChang. After not establishing herself as a number one pick before the Games, the speed specialist had to go through daily internal qualifiers to determine whether she would get to race or not. She did make it to the start line for both the downhill and the super-G, finishing sixth and 17th respectively, but it is not an experience she wants to repeat.
“For sure, next time I want to make it a little bit easy for myself, to qualify earlier and then focus on the race. Like [I have been doing] in the past two years,” she said, before expanding on her new expectations.
“Preparation will be different; it’s more intensive now. We have more focus on my ski materials, my ski boots, the different skis, and also I work more intensively on myself. For sure my goals are a little bit different now.”
Technical changes have followed Suter’s radical upsurge in confidence during the past year-and-a-half, making her a clear medal contender for Beijing 2022.
“I try to have my focus not on my weaknesses, but I try to learn a little more about tactics,” she said. “I always analyse with my coaches, and we try and find out when I can let the skis go and when it is important to come from a little bit more behind the gates.”
If Suter succeeds and follows team-mate Gisin to Olympic glory, she will also be stepping into the sparkling shoes of former rival Vonn – something she has dreamed of doing for as long as she can remember.
“Since I was a little child I had a lot of posters and pictures in my room, and I always watched her on TV. I can remember the first time we trained together, and when she stood in front of me it was a very special feeling. I was super nervous,” Suter said of Vonn, the three-time Olympic medallist.
“It was also special at her last race [the downhill at the 2019 World Championships] when I was in front of her.”